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Doc. 132.-recapture of Jacksonville, Fla.

Report of General Saxton.

Beaufort, S. C., March 14, 1863.
Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
sir: I have the honor to report, that the expedition which I sent up the St. John's River, Fla., consisting of the First regiment of South-Carolina volunteers, Colonel T. W. Higginson commanding, and a portion of tile Second South-Carolina volunteers, under Col. Montgomery, captured and took possession of Jacksonville, on Tuesday, the tenth instant. As I stated in my last report to you, the object of this expedition was to occupy Jacksonville, and make it the base of operations for arming the negroes, and securing, in this way, possession of the entire State of Florida.

It gives me pleasure to report, that so far the objects of the expedition have been fully accomplished. The town is completely in our possession, and many prisoners.

There has been constant skirmishing going on for several days and in every action the negro troops have behaved with the utmost bravery. Never in a single instance can I learn that they have flinched. It is my belief that scarcely an incident in this war, has caused a greater panic throughout the whole Southern coast, than this raid of the colored troops in Florida. The negroes are collecting at Jacksonville from all quarters.

I am, sir, with great respect,

R. Saxton, Brigadier-General of Volunteers.

New-York times account.

Port Royal, Wednesday, March 18, 1863.
In a late letter, I furnished a meagre account of an expedition of colored troops to Florida. A recent arrival from the scene of operations puts me in possession of details which are interesting, and promise important results.

The troops left Beaufort on the sixth instant, in the United States transports Burnside, Boston, and John Adams, and consisted of the First regiment South-Carolina volunteers, Col. T. W. Higginson, and the Second regiment South-Carolina volunteers, Col. James Montgomery. The destination of the expedition was known to few on board, but it was generally understood that a base of operations was to be established, and measures adopted with a view of encouraging the negroes to flee from their masters, and accept the protection of the United States, and this was sufficient to fill the colored soldiers with carnestness and enthusiasm.

On the seventh, the vessels reached Fernandina, where they were delayed for a day, until the plans of the commanders could be properly arranged, and on the morning of the ninth, they dropped anchor at the mouth of the St. John's River, under the guns of the naval steamers Uncas, Capt. Watson, and Norwich, Capt. Duncan. The sons of Mars and Neptune then consulted, and were not long in deciding to capture the [445] town of Jacksonville, distant twenty miles up the river, which the fortunes of the war had twice before thrown into our hands, and which we had twice abandoned to the enemy, as it was not worth the holding.

A necessary delay, before attempting the object they had in view, afforded an opportunity for a detachment of a dozen of Colonel Montgomery's men to go ashore on a foraging excursion. They proved themselves experts in that line of business, returning in an hour with a fat beef, slung on a pole, that had fallen a victim to good marksmanship. This prize, with a quantity of poultry and vegetables that came with it, and a superabundance of excellent fish, which those on board the vessels took while their comrades were on shore, aided the commissary's department, and added visibly to the hilarious good humor.

On the tenth, the expedition steamed up the river. A few miles from the mouth, on the left bank, is the first highland, called St. John's Bluff. At this point, a former expedition was stopped, last summer, by a formidable rebel battery commanding the channel. The fortification was subsequently taken by a combined naval and land force, that destroyed the works, and brought away the guns. It was reasonable to suppose that an obstacle to the passage of the fleet would be again found here, and preparations were made for a fight, but no enemy appeared, and not a sign of resistance showed itself during the further progress of the vessels toward the town. At eight o'clock, the steamer John Adams, tinder cover of the gunboat Uncas, ranged alongside the wharf, at Jacksonville, and Colonel Higginson jumped ashore, followed by Captain Dolly's company — the men scrambling off as best they could, neglecting, in their eagerness, to avail themselves of a gangplank. They immediately formed in marching order, and started on the double-quick for the railroad depot. The remainder of the force soon followed, and part of it advanced to the outskirts of the town, and holding the approaches. This movement was executed with such promptness, that the first knowledge of the invasion only came to the townspeople when they saw the black soldiers marching past their dwellings.

As soon as the Burnside was fastened to the wharf, Col. Montgomery, at the head of two companies, pushed out into the woods, to find the rebel pickets. He was not long before coming up with a cavalry company, and a brisk skirmish ensued. His men behaved admirably, and routed the enemy, after killing and wounding a dozen or more, one of whom was the captain, who was shot through the head. His own loss was one killed and two wounded.

It was afterward ascertained, that the town has not recently been occupied by the rebels in force, a picket simply being established there. Three miles from the town, there is another and much stronger picket-station, while the main body of troops is encamped eight miles further out. Colonel Higginson immediately stationed pickets, and adopted precautions against surprise, and so the time passed until the next morning, without any alarm having been given. A dash was at last made by about two hundred of the rebel cavalry, but this force was repulsed, and not a man on our side was injured. In the afternoon, a scouting squad of the Carolinians, crossed the river, and brought back one prisoner, a rebel flag, four rifles, a horse and a fat ox, finding a large force of the enemy in the woods, about two miles from the town.

Col. Higginson's headquarters are at the residence of the rebel Col. Sanderson, a very elegant and commodious building. He was at first constantly pestered with applications, on the part of the inhabitants, for permission to pass beyond our lines, and in every instance, he informed the applicants that if their choice led them to go among the rebels, in preference to accepting the protection of the United States, they were privileged to leave. He wished to have his enemies in front, where he could fight them. Those who decided upon remaining, must simply take the oath of allegiance, and be faithful to their obligations, and their safety would be guaranteed. He had not come to injure, but to protect loyal men — the rebellious alone were to be driven out. After an explanation of this sort, many withdrew their applications.

The Sixth Connecticut regiment, and Eighth Maine, to-day left Beaufort, to relieve the negro regiments at Jacksonville, and will hold that place while Colonel Higginson presses on further into the heart of the State.

You have already been informed of the capture of a rebel naval officer named Beville, by his own men, who deserted while on picket-duty, and brought him off with them. Yesterday, a flag of truce was sent down from Savannah, with a package of clothing and one hundred dollars in gold, to meet Beville's necessities, and a draft for two hundred and fifty dollars more, upon Mr. Washington Durbrow, of Hanover street, New-York, made payable to him in Liverpool, was also forwarded for the same purpose. I understand that an effort will be made to exchange Beville for Lieut. Rush, the signal-officer who was captured by the rebels last week, from Spanish Wells Station.

J. H. W.

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